This article was written by Tracey Rawling Church, Co-Chair of Reading Climate Action Network
The initials actually stand for Conference of the Parties, the name for the main decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on climate Change or UNFCC. UNFCC was an agreement made by 197 countries in 1995 to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid dangerous climate change. COP26 is their 26th annual meeting, which should have taken place in 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic. COP takes place in a different country each year and this year it is being co-hosted by the governments of the UK and Italy, in Glasgow.
COP26 will take place from 1st to 12th November. It provides a formal opportunity for countries to meet and agree on actions to tackle climate change, although a lot of the groundwork is done in advance in the hope that by the time the countries meet they will be ready to make a commitment. The process is complicated by the fact that many of the countries that stand to suffer the most from the effects of climate change have the lowest emissions, so the UNFCC includes the funding by rich countries of emissions reduction activities in poorer countries.
The ideal outcome of a COP meeting is that binding agreements are made between world leaders to take decisive action on climate change. This happened in Paris in 2015 when global leaders signed a legally-binding treaty known as The Paris Agreement, to limit global warming to well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, and ideally below 1.5°C. The Paris Agreement required governments to commit to specific targets for their own countries to reduce carbon emissions, known as nationally determined contributions (NDC). COP26 will examine whether the current NDCs are sufficient to keep global temperature rise within the agreed limits.
During COP26 around 30,000 people will visit Glasgow, including government representatives, negotiators, scientists, business leaders, policy makers and activists. The event takes place in two zones. The Blue Zone is managed by the United Nations and will be located in the Scottish Event Campus; this is where official negotiators and world leaders will meet.
The Green Zone in the Glasgow Science Centre is organised by the UK government and is open to the public. It aims to promote learning and action around climate change through exhibitions, workshops and discussion groups. This is where Reading Climate Action Network will be located, with a stand on November 6th showcasing our climate emergency strategy and action plan, Reading Climate Festival and some of the projects we’ve supported.
We feel that it’s particularly important that Reading should be represented at COP26 since its President is our local MP, Alok Sharma, and our university is a recognised leader in climate change research. What we can achieve as a town may be limited, but by participating in global events and collaborating with others we can have much more impact.
The official COP meeting is only part of the picture. Businesses, think tanks, charities and campaign groups will also host their own events as part of the COP fringe, in pop-up venues all over the city. We’ll be attending some of these and reporting back on the most interesting ones.